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Arctic melt linked to winter extremes in Europe

Last Updated: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 18:12

Washington: The record-breaking cold that gripped Europe this winter could be tied to a surprising culprit -- a steep decline in sea ice in Arctic following a warming of the polar region, scientists have claimed.

Using a combination of observational data and computer modelling, researchers were able to connect the autumn changes in Arctic sea ice and the resulting changes in atmospheric conditions -- increased moisture levels to colder temperatures and increased snowfall across North America, Europe and Asia.

"We conclude that the recent decline of Arctic sea ice has played a critical role in recent cold and snowy winters," the researchers said.

Since the late 1970s, when the satellite records began, Arctic sea ice cover has declined steeply. Some researchers have warned that if current patterns continue, the Arctic could experience nearly ice-free summers within the next few decades, LiveScience reported.

A lack of sea ice can evidently alter atmospheric circulation patterns by weakening westerly winds, increasing the amplitude of the jet stream and increasing the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, said Jiping Liu of Georgia Tech, lead author of the study.

"These pattern changes enhance blocking patterns that favour more frequent movement of cold air masses to middle and lower latitudes, leading to increased heavy snowfall in Europe, and the Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States," Liu said.

The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


First Published: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 18:12

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